When I sat down to talk to my friend Liz Thompson and her gorgeous new pup Evie, about how getting older felt for her. I knew the conversation would be honest and very thoughtful. We chatted over a pot of tea, before her swim at Bilgola rockpool, a few week ago.
I met Liz Thompson on an assignment in PNG over thirty years ago. We went onto share a studio with Sand Edwards and then lived floors apart in the fabulous Silknit building in Surry Hills.
We are good friends who see too little of each other. We have always had wonderful conversations, so this was a real treat
Well how do you feel about getting older?
For me that’s a very textured landscape and I’ve been going through a range of emotional responses in relation to the experience. I think there are parts of getting older that are difficult like starting to lose people I love, losing my father. There’s a major transitional process that occurs in the later part of your life … the starker reality of mortality, watching my children grow up and understanding they’ll move out and have their own wonderful lives which, whilst celebratory, brings with it a kind of sorrow, there’s the cessation of fertility and the physical changes that take place in the body.
I’ve always philosophically advocated I will grow old with grace and I think the body holds the story of a life lived. In a photograph you look at the faces of old people and often see such beauty in the ways those faces have been transformed. But when it’s your own it’s a bit of a different story and there are parts of that that are difficult! With that though comes other things, hopefully some sort of emotional maturity, a greater capacity to compromise and a less selfish pursuit of ones’ own pleasure - particularly in having children, a deeper concern for others.
I’ve always done work that I’ve loved, I don’t think except when I was in my twenties I have done work that hasn’t resonated for me. I’m deeply grateful for that. In the last few years I’ve set up a foundation which I believe does important and valuable work but it has meant I’ve sometimes worked really hard in ways that has meant I haven’t had enough time for people I love and to some extent I’ve put aside my own personal work as a photographer. At this time in my life now, I want to be more present with the people I love and make more time for my own creative practice. Losing people I love has highlighted the reality that time is finite.
So this isn’t so much about how do I feel about ageing per se but perhaps more about the things that are changing for me, what are my priorities and what will I ensure I make more time for. I meditate for an hour a day and I’m pretty rigorous with that and I also swim daily and I’ve been making a garden. These are the islands in my day, things in the past I haven’t had enough time for, made time for or prioritized - that has changed as I’ve grown older.
These things are bringing something different into my life, like exhaling, like breath. It’s been to some extent about navigating the cultural pressure of production, of ‘doing’ work in the world. I remember when I was a young mother with young kids , people would say ‘So what are you doing?’, and I didn’t have the confidence to say ‘I’m mothering’ . I felt just being present with my kids was inadequate as a narrative for my life which is symptomatic of a culture defined by productivity as opposed to presence. As I’ve grown older I certainly feel that in terms of notions of ‘achieving’ anything, my children have been the greatest and most precious gift. Mothering has been a divine job I’m deeply grateful for having had the opportunity to experience.
These islands, spaces for presence, sitting for an hour a day, walking with my dog watching the way the sun moves on the water, sitting in the garden eating breakfast observing the way the flower has opened during the night have become increasingly meaningful and essential. We are so over stimulated and distracted.
I feel I’m coming to a place of a little more balance as a way of life . In that sense I would say I feel good about growing older, learning how to live more closely aligned to what I would consider my truth, not always succeeding, but certainly more conscious.
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